Exploring a new reality for brands
Every week we bring you data and insights to navigate a rapidly changing brand and consumer landscape.


Building a brand identity through radical transparency

Defector—the new media company which has risen from the ashes of Deadspin—launched last week to (mostly) gleeful responses from digital consumers. Beyond the exciting return of many of the internet’s most recognizable bloggers, the new company is a fascinating case study in communicating brand values with honesty and clarity far beyond the norm. From editor-in-chief Tom Ley’s exhaustive origin story to its editorial process to its monetization strategy to, well, the name itself, Defector’s overriding brand value—forthrightness at all costs—is intertwined in everything it does. 

Launching with such gusto into a massively competitive market is certainly a risk, but it’s precisely this approach that Altered contributor Anda Gansca, co-founder and CEO of Knotch, says is critical at this moment. “The companies that are going to win post-pandemic will focus on what they can control, and they will favor action over paralysis,” explains Gansca.


Are we ‘getting tired’ of the coronavirus?

New data from Newswhip, reported by Axios, shows that online engagement with COVID-19-related digital content has massively decreased from its peak in March. Social media interactions around coronavirus have seen double-digit decreases nearly every month since spring, and Google searches related to COVID-19 have now returned to levels last seen in late February, before the virus fully took hold of the world’s attention. “Even as the virus itself began to spread largely unchecked across almost the entire country in late June, the uptick in engagement was modest—another sign that Americans had gotten used to the virus,” reported Axios

This “COVID fatigue” presents a real challenge for brands, who have to ensure that they’re not taxing already-overwhelmed audiences, but still need to meet people’s expectation to communicate about safety and provide relevant information. “From global to micro communities, people are seeking meaningful human-to-human connection to endure this crisis,” writes Altered contributor Kate Watts, president of Atlantic 57—increasingly, that may mean making another pivot on how—or if—they talk about the pandemic.


The rise of the doer

2020 has presented a new challenge for leaders—how can you provide leadership when everything around you is going topsy-turvy? Harvard Business Review provides an academic breakdown for what is required from leaders today: significant investment into “the 4 A’s”: anticipation, articulation, adaptation, and accountability. According to HBR, these attributes are “plain to see in the most successful responses to the pandemic,” such as AstraZeneca’s approach to vaccine development. 

Beyond buzzwords, though, adaptive leadership requires more emphasis on “doing”—according to a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, leaders during the pandemic are increasingly the people who just get things done. “The confidence, intelligence, and extroversion that have long propelled ambitious workers into the executive suite are not enough online, because they simply don’t translate into virtual leadership,” noted the BBC. “Instead, workers who are organised, dependable and productive take the reins of virtual teams.”


Pandemic or not, consumer essentials are consumer essentials

On the surface, Gallup’s latest monthly update on consumer sentiment during the pandemic doesn’t appear particularly groundbreaking: “Americans’ likelihood to engage in consumer behavior that requires them to visit public places changed little between July and August,” according to the study. But the real treasure is buried deep in this month’s data. The overarching narrative of there being two Americas—one that’s bunkering at home awaiting a vaccine and one that’s living life as usual, unconcerned about the virus—doesn’t really hold up when it comes to consumption.

“Americans’ likelihood to shop in person for essential items like food and medical supplies varies little by their perception of whether the COVID-19 situation is getting better or worse,” Gallup concludes, citing that “while 51 percent of those who believe the situation is getting a lot better say they or others in their household have visited a grocery store in the past 48 hours, so do 57 percent of those who believe the situation is getting a lot worse.”


Exploring the language of science over the past two centuries

It’s not every day that you get to play with 175 years of data—and Scientific American is putting that opportunity to good use. The publication, celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, has developed a digital interactive that allows users to explore trends based on every word that the magazine has ever published across 5,107 issues. (Apparently, 1937 was the biggest year for “brand” in the magazine.) “Like the patterns in marbled paper, the word frequencies undulate, soaring and plunging as a function of time to track the way science talked about itself to itself,” explains science historian Lorraine Daston. Not only is the tool a fun rabbit hole to explore, but it’s a completely on-brand interactive for SA. What could be more relevant to the “illumination of the most important developments at the intersection of science and society” than observing the language of science change since before our great-great-great-grandparents were born?